Wearables can not only help workers be healthy, the digital tools can also keep them safe by augmenting their physical and perceptual abilities, according to the Deloitte report, “Workforce superpowers: Wearables are augmenting employees’ abilities.”
“A new generation of wearable technologies is giving workers superhuman strength, endurance, vision, hearing and awareness,” write the authors, David Schatsky and Navya Kumar.
“Far from making workers obsolete, these technologies can improve their productivity, help them overcome physical limitations, or compensate for spotty skills,” they write. “And they give employers new ways to plan for the workforce of the future.”
Indeed, worker safety will only increase in importance, as more older Americans continue working, according to the report, which cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data that by 2026, 37 percent of those aged 65 to 69 years will be actively employed, versus 22 percent in 1996. Moreover, annual workplace injury costs have also risen, reaching almost $60 billion in the U.S.
Some businesses that employ physical labor are equipping their workers with exoskeletons that aim to support the body, helping employees conserve energy and avoid strain, according to the Deloitte report. Such wearable technology can also transfer the weight of heavy loads to the ground or to different muscles to boost strength and endurance — particularly useful in the context of an aging workforce.
Wearables can also help improve worker safety by monitoring the wearer’s physical status and environmental conditions and raising alerts when conditions become dangerous. At a Fujitsu factory, smart wrist-wear issues alerts at signs of heat stress, while at a mining company, smart helmets detect driver fatigue.
“There is significant economic potential here: U.S. businesses spend nearly $1 billion per week compensating for workplace injuries,” the authors write.
Augmented and virtual reality can amplify workers’ powers of perception, improving their productivity. “Overlaying contextually relevant information such as instructions and explanations in a worker’s field of view can enable him or her to work faster and with better quality,” they write. “For example, at GE Aviation, smart glasses ensure that mechanics need not stop work to check reference manuals, thus improving efficiency by 8 to 12 percent while reducing errors, potentially saving millions.”
Connected hearables and voice-controlled wearables can also enhance productivity and “transform customer service.” At Air New Zealand, with wireless headphones connected to machine learning–enabled live translation capabilities on a smartphone, staff can understand customers speaking in any of 40 languages.
In time, wearables will take even more forms and combine a wider range of emerging technologies, according to the report.
“It’s time for companies not already utilizing wearables to assess their potential and to rethink workforce planning in light of the impact these technologies can have,” the authors write. “After all, what employer wouldn’t want a workforce with superpowers?”